On December 11, 1862 the quiet city of Fredericksburg suddenly found itself caught in the crossfire between two opposing giants - Washington D.C. and Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Fredericksburg boasted a heritage rich in Revolutionary War freedom fighting, yet one-third of its population was enslaved. So it was that, while the majority of Fredericksburg dreaded the approach of the Yankees, a significant minority celebrated it. In the spring and summer of 1862 nearly 10,000 enslaved men, women and children escaped to freedom by crossing the Rappahannock to the Union camps on the other side. President Lincoln desperately wanted a victory at Fredericksburg so he could deliver the Emancipation Proclamation declaring the War to be for both unity and freedom.

Union Gen. Burnside led his Army of the Potomac to the banks of the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg where his engineers began building pontoon bridges for a river crossing. Confederate sharpshooters fired on them, and the Union responded with an artillery bombardment of Fredericksburg that reduced nearly 100 buildings to rubble. The following day, Union soldiers looted and ransacked what was left of the quaint city.

Burnside then devised a battle strategy that included a main assault on Prospect Hill and a 'diversionary' one at Marye's Heights. Anticipating his move, the Confederates built a mile-long line along Prospect Hill and amassed troops on Marye's Heights above the telegraph road known as the Sunken Road and the Stone Wall. On the morning of December 13th, the Union army, shrouded by fog, attacked in the area of the battlefield later known as 'Slaughter Pen Farm' and achieved a brief victory but was repulsed by Jackson's counterattack. Hours of brutal fighting resulted in 9,000 casualties.

fredericksburg maryes heights

A Union soldier remarked that during the charges against Marye's Heights, 'Our men were slaughtered like sheep' by Confederate artillerists along the heights.

Burnside then moved the battle to Marye's Heights, where he sent line after line of Union soldiers - 18 lines in all - over the course of 8 hours - across an open field without cover to the Confederate stronghold at Marye's Heights. None of the brave Union soldiers in these deadly, futile frontal assaults got within 40 yards of the Stone Wall before being downed by Confederate gunners along the Heights. Another 9,000 casualties occurred here, almost all of them Union soldiers. Even Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, as he watched the battle from his command post on Lee's Hill, sadly remarked, 'It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.'

Visiting Fredericksburg Battlefield

Your best bet is to begin at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Park Visitor Center. The staffed visitor center features museum exhibits, a film, self-guided walking and driving tours, ranger-led walking tours, special events and a gift shop. The Sunken Road Walking Trail located outside the visitor center is a 1/2-mile loop trail that follows the Sunken Road past the Innis House, which withstood the fierce fighting of 1862, and then ascends Marye's Heights and passes through Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

The Lee Drive driving tour is located just across Rt. 3 from the visitor center. The tour begins at Lee's Hill, Robert E. Lee's command post during the battle, and passes by Howison Hill - another Confederate stronghold, the site of the Union's temporary breakthrough in the Confederate line, and Jackson's Confederate line at Prospect Hill. There is a short, but steep trail up Lee's Hill to an exhibit shelter and a short, easy trail at Prospect Hill to Hamilton's Crossing, the right anchor of Jackson's Line. The Slaughter Pen Farm portion of the battlefield lies about 3 miles south of the visitor center on Rt. 2. Here there is an easy 1-3/4 mile Civil War Trust trail on a level, mowed-grass track that passes by major areas of action during the Union attack on Prospect Hill. Located about 2 miles east of the visitor center, Chatham Manor served as a Union headquarters and hospital during the Civil War and offers a film and tours of the house and grounds.

Visit Civil War Trust and National Park Service for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the very top: Riddled with bullet holes and adorned by soldiers' graffiti, the Innis House stood on the Confederate line during the battle of Marye's Heights.

fredericksburg artillery maryes heights

Fredericksburg Battlefield features an artillery display as well as views of downtown Fredericksburg along the hiking trail atop Marye's Heights.

fredericksburg willis cemetery

The Willis Hill Cemetery sheltered wounded Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Fredericksburg. To this day, the gateposts bear the scars of war.

fredericksburg pennsylvania monument

The Pennsylvania monument at Fredericksburg National Cemetery is inscribed with the words, "Erected by Pennsylvania to commemorate the charge of General Humphreys' Division Fifth Corps on Maryes Heights Fredericksburg Virginia Dec 13 1862."

fredericksburg slaughter pen

Five Medals of Honor were awarded to Union soldiers who served at Fredericksburg on the battlefield now known as Slaughter Pen Farm. Today, Slaughter Pen Farm features an easy, 1-3/4 mile Civil War Trust Trail with interpretive panels.